By Daniel E. Bacine
Like you, I would like to see peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.
Over the past year I’ve had conversations with a number of Jewish friends on this subject and have been astonished about their lack of knowledge of the relevant facts. Some on the far left believe that Israel’s settlement policies are both illegal and an impediment to peace.
The facts demonstrate otherwise. To better understand the situation in Israel between the Arabs and the Jews, it’s necessary to understand the history.
Jews have lived, continuously, in Palestine for well more than 2,000 years. The geographical area — not a political entity — was controlled by the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years before World War I. After the war, the British took control; the area became known as Mandatory Palestine, or the British Mandate.
In 1917, Lord Balfour, Britain’s foreign secretary, wrote a letter to the leader of Britain’s Jewish community. In the letter, which became known as the Balfour Declaration, he expressed Britain’s then-view favoring the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, at the same time recognizing that there were non-Jews in Palestine whose rights should not be prejudiced.
The principle contained in that declaration was incorporated into the peace agreement with the Ottoman Empire at the end of the war. There were both Jews and Arabs living in Palestine at the time, but no political entity. Rather, from the end of World War I until 1948, Britain controlled Palestine.
While Jews had been living in Palestine for more than 2,000 years, Jews had been dispersed over the millennia, leaving the Jewish population there relatively small. But Jews were persecuted in many countries and, beginning in the late 19th century, the Zionist movement developed.
Thousands of Jews moved to Palestine over the next 50 years or so to escape persecution and pogroms. Unfortunately, many in Eastern and Central Europe stayed, never believing that what was to happen in Germany with the Nazis could ever happen in such a civilized society. In 1947, following World War II, the newly created United Nations adopted a resolution to partition Palestine into two states: a Jewish state and an Arab state.
The U.N. Partition Plan did not refer to a Palestinian state, but to an Arab state. It referred to Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. There was no people called the Palestinians. The partition plan referred to the area that most people refer to as the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, which are the names that had been in continuous use in those areas for more than 2,000 years.
The Jews quickly accepted the U.N. plan, even though the land allocated to the new Jewish state was fraught with security and other issues, was not contiguous and did not include Jerusalem. But the Arabs rejected it.
When the State of Israel was established in 1948 and declared its independence, armies from Egypt, Jordan and Syria invaded. Israel’s war of independence ended not with a peace treaty, but with armistice lines.
The 1949 armistice lines are sometimes incorrectly referred to as the 1967 borders. They are not borders at all; since the Arabs rejected the U.N. proposal, there are no recognized borders. From 1948 through 1967, Judea and Samaria was occupied by Jordan. Note that Jordan, an Arab state, made no effort during its occupation to create a Palestinian state. Jordan changed the name of those areas to the West Bank, a name that has unfortunately stuck.
In 1967, in reaction to the Egyptian army mobilizing in the Sinai, Israel made a preemptive strike against the Egyptian forces and defeated them handily, gaining control of both the Sinai and Gaza. Meanwhile, Egypt had induced both Syria and Jordan to attack Israel from the east. That resulted in Israel gaining control of the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria, and the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Kotel. That war became known as the Six-Day War.
So historically, what’s called the West Bank is not Arab — or Palestinian — land at all, but is disputed land, without recognized governance. It would have been Arab land if the Arabs had accepted the U.N. Partition Plan. In that context, then, the issue of so-called settlements is rather complicated.
Some Israeli communities over the Green Line are in areas that most people think will be within what will become Israel’s recognized border if there ever is an agreement. Some are not.
But remember, when Israel gave back the Sinai after it made peace with Egypt, as part of the deal Israel abandoned Jewish communities that had been established in the Sinai. And Israel abandoned the Jewish communities in Gaza when Israel left Gaza.
The resolution that the U.N. Security Council recently adopted, with the help of the U.S. government, ignores the truth and gives credence to those who would destroy Israel. Among other things, according to the U.N. resolution, Israel is now illegally occupying the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and the Kotel. Even Israelis on the political left who are against the government’s settlement policy understand the security needs that would prevent Israel from now agreeing to call the 1949 armistice line a border.
Settlements have never been an impediment to peace and are not an impediment now even if one believes, as I do, that they are diplomatically not a good idea. There were no settlements between 1948 until 1967, when Jordan controlled Judea and Samaria.
The Arabs have had many opportunities to make peace with Israel and to have their own state. They refused in 1947, and on a number of occasions since then. Hamas and many Palestinian Arabs — probably a majority — don’t want a Jewish presence anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. That’s the impediment to peace.
Israel is no more a perfect country than is ours. And its internal politics are as messy as ours. Israelis do not speak with one voice on the government’s policy concerning the building of homes over the Green Line. But I can say definitively that the so-called settlements are neither illegal nor an impediment to peace. Those who say otherwise are either ignorant of the facts or, worse, ignore them.
Daniel E. Bacine is an attorney in Philadelphia. He is a former member of the Jewish Publishing Group.